Platform4: It's up to the media to reconnect science and politics

Until election fever broke out, the media were offering a diet that focused more on mad cows than man-sized chickens. Science was in vogue, with topics ranging from CJD to genetically engineered salmon and sheep. The theme was one of technological potential and human folly; good science and bad practice. It gave good headlines, too: who can forget necrotising fasciitis's "Killer bug ate my face"? The style was apocalyptic but it was one that the public found easy to grasp.

Now science is off the agenda. On trawling round the main political parties for their science policies, I was repeatedly advised that science isn't sexy enough for a general election. Apparently the media don't rate it as an audience-winner, and voters don't understand the complex issues involved in BSE or genetics. This time round, we're not even pretending to go green. When it comes to science, it seems, we are a nation of dullards and looking to the future means taking out a private pension plan.

On 1 May we will probably be electing the last government of this century. As well as being on a temporal knife-edge, we are on a scientific and cultural one. Technological breakthroughs - whether in genetics, computing or medicine - will change the nature of our lives. Progress is occurring at such a rate that a yawning policy gap is opening up.

Science has become our Frankenstein's monster. Caught up with the thrill of what we can do, we've got mice growing human ears, pigs carrying human genes, video cameras that can recognise your face. We may think these issues don't affect us, but what happens when your insurance company wants you to take a genetic test for cancer, heart disease or Alzheimer's? Most people understand all too well what that could mean to them, financially and emotionally.

The public understood enough to vote with its feet when beef from BSE cows was linked with CJD. We also had no problem linking poultry feed made from chicken remains to salmonella. We also know that since the war, Britain has gone for a food policy based on low cost rather than high quality. When even our daily bread could soon be the result of genetic engineering, are the politicians serious that science has no place in decisions about our lives?

When politicians do not deliver the goods for a better future, the media should be there to take up the debate. There are issues, such as global warming, that are bigger than Europe; issues, such as research funding, that will affect he nature of the world we will live in. Biotechnology is welcomed as one of the fastest growing sectors in our economy, but feared when it breaks new ground. Without the media, there's no one to mediate between science and society. But the media seem more interested in apocalypse than analysis.

This is a gross oversight. Science has had more impact on our lives than politics could ever have. Even the current pensions crisis can be put down to medical advances improving longevity and contraception.

When science and society fail to connect, the media must step in and bridge the gap. But unless the media can move beyond sensationalising or ignoring science, and towards embedding it in the mainstream political agenda, we won't be making an informed choice in the forthcoming electionn

Vanessa Collingridge presents 'The Sci Files' at 7.30pm on BBC2 tonight.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst - High Wycombe - £30,000

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst role...

Guru Careers: Talent Manager

£30-35k (P/T - Pro Rata) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienc...

Sauce Recruitment: New Media Marketing Manager - EMEA - Digital Distribution

£35000 - £45000 per annum + up to £45,000: Sauce Recruitment: The Internation...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003